Friday, February 5, 2021

"Strong Back, Soft Front"

I was wondering where and when to end my latest series of Meditations (aka Memory Cards, aka prose poems). My friend Janet suggested January 6, as that was the day President Biden would officially be elected. I considered writing that morning, but then January 6 happened. This past year of writing (and being) has been a confrontation with an awful sublimity. Awful because of Trump and covid, sublime in being nearly impossible to voice. I remember staring at Mt. Blanc, a house between me and it, and thinking I could never live there; it was too beautiful. Our time has been nearly too ugly to write about, though I did, until January. The last Meditation's central character is Rudy G., sadly, hilariously enough. But the last sentence might be an apt ending for a project that ran approximately one year: "Lear had better lines, but he got canceled after a single season." The sequence of poems that preceded this one, "I Want to Write an Honest Sentence," nearly ended with Brett Kavanaugh, but I waited until I witnessed the dying of a praying mantis at my daughter's soccer match (aided by two women, who offered it palliative care under a tree on the grass) to end the sequence that seemed already to have been completed. This sequence may end with the farce of Rudy as a lesser Lear. I need to go back and read the sequence before I locate that as the end point. Ending a book of such poems, written in chronological order and held there, is itself an artificial process, or end thereof. The pause in writing is not a pause in being. It's just a pause in being the secretary of this particular corporation.

I lead my students through Kaia Sand's movement from "bound" to "bound," as in "we're bound there on a train," to "we are bound, incarcerated." Each word a theme with variations, often dissonant. How history bends the language against justice. Just is, justice, as the inaugural poet rhymed. To unbind it is to free us from the cover story. All literature should be propanganda, DuBois argued, but he was a sociologist! And even literature that engages with ambiguity and impermanence can itself be propaganda for itself. I am here, though the experiment is to look in the mirror without using the pronoun "I."

Justice and just is. A woman in the socially engaged Buddhism course says her Buddhist colleagues tell her that she can't hope to reach her goals; that's not Buddhist. The Roshi doesn't disagree, she simply pulls more threads: "You're asked to show up, not succeed." Which is not to say we don't want to succeed for others; to disappear into one's work is the goal. How to unlearn a career in the academy, the "Profession," one of seeking to impress others, to climb, to "be best," as our last first lady put it ("it" standing in for something that was not there). Her "be best" was like the verb "to bind." It shrank at contact.

To unbind the wound of history must be as painful as the wound had been. 



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